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Kyle Scaffidi
Professor Brigit Conway
Art History 6A
09 December 2014
Depictions of St. Matthew in Hiberno-Saxon and Carolingian Styles
During the spread of Christianity in the Middle Ages, paintings, codices, and manuscripts
containing Christian subject matter and iconography became common occurrence in many parts
of Europe. There developed several distinct artistic styles to describe Christian subject matter
originating from different geographical areas. One such subject was the illustration of the
evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as well as their respective icons. To take a specific
example, the Gospel Book of Durrow (c. 680 CE) and the Gospel Book of Archbishop Ebbo of
Reims (c. 816-35 CE) both contain representations of Matthew and yet both embody the
Hiberno-Saxon and Carolingian styles respectively. While both of these examples depict the
evangelist Matthew and his symbol, they do so differently through the use of formal elements
such as composition, line, light, and space which leave the viewer with different impressions.
The composition of each painting of Matthew plays an important role in the overall
impression imparted on the viewer. At first glance of the paintings side by side, one might come
to the hollowed conclusion that the Carolingian artist has created a much more accurate painting
of Matthew than the Hiberno-Saxon artist. However, it must be noted that the two artists are not
striving for the same goals. While the Carolingian artist is indeed trying to depict the humanly
form of St. Matthew, the Hiberno-Saxon artist is illustrating the symbol of St. Matthew. This icon
is something that need not be, or should not be, realistic at all to have the intended permanent
impression that a symbol should embody. With this in mind, one can understand the unnatural

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symmetry, disproportionate/non-existent limbs, blocky featuring, and overall simplicity of the


Hiberno-Saxon rendition. Interestingly, if this were a competition of symbolism, the Carolingian
artist would have failed miserably as Matthews symbol can only faintly be seen in the distant
background of his rendition. Clearly symbolism was an afterthought, not the focus of this artist;
rather the painting was composed in hopes of attaining classical naturalism.
Further, the use of line type has a profound effect upon the energy of each painting of
Matthew. It is apparent that the Carolingian artist makes extensive use of flurried, curved lines.
This frenzy of lines invigorates the painting and gives the viewer a sense of movement and
realism, a tenant of artists from the same period. On the other hand, the Hiberno-Saxon artist
employs orthogonal, straight lines to represent the icon of Matthew. The resulting effect is of
permanence and stability which embodies what a symbol should stand for. The straight line type
also creates a perception of order and logic, presumably in accordance with the ideals outlined in
the Gospel according to Matthew. Lastly, the line type used creates the opportunity to create a
light source in the paintings.
The play of light or lack thereof, attributes to the impression of realism of each painting.
Again, the goal of the Carolingian artist is to depict the actual person Matthew in as realistic
terms as possible. Such is accomplished to an extent by the creation of a light source and
subsequent shading under the curved lines in Matthews clothing and shadowing under
Matthews limbs and facial features. In opposition, the Hiberno-Saxon artist has made no attempt
to use light-play in his depiction resulting in an unrealistic, supernatural portrayal. However, the
goal of this artist is not to depict Matthew himself, but to symbolize him and his message in
more long-lasting terms. One can argue that such was accomplished by this simplistic, symbolic
representation; an idea cannot die as the human can.

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The combination of line type and light-play provides space and perceived depth. The
Carolingian example uses these elements to resolve a three-dimensional space in which Matthew
is set; however the implementation is a bit awkward. Matthew sits in the foreground with an
irregular footing and casts an unrealistic shadow on the hill in the background, which consists of
classical architecture and the icon of Matthew. Even so, it is obvious that the artist meant for
Matthew to be perceived in real, human form in the real, three-dimensional world. Again on the
contrary, the Hiberno-Saxon rendition sets the symbol of Matthew in a two-dimensional, planar
space. It resembles something you would see on a banner, a shield, or a crest; a symbol. This lack
of consideration of space shows that the artist is more concerned with the idea of Matthew than
actually representing him.
The intended impressions and qualities of both paintings of St. Matthew can be
accurately compared and contrasted using formal analysis. The composition of each painting
differs according to the artists goals; mainly that the Carolingian artist seeks to realistically
represent Matthew while the Hiberno-Saxon artist means to symbolize Matthew and his ideals.
In the former, it is necessary to employ curvature and flow to capture real-world energy while the
latter effectively uses straight lines to emphasize the permanence of Matthews icon. Going
further, the line type also dictates the degree of shading and light play that can be implemented in
each painting; high degree in the Carolingian version, with virtually no shading in the HibernoSaxon example. Lastly through inspection of the artworks, it can be determined that the effects of
each previous artistic choice influence the spaces in which each painting is created. Overall, the
Carolingian rendition of St. Matthew is composed to provide the viewer with the impression of
worldly realism and the Hiberno-Saxon depiction of the symbol of St. Matthew is composed to
impress the abstract idea of St. Matthews Gospel. The execution of each painting is unique to

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the described formal choices that each respective artist has implemented. In conclusion, the
impact of the Carolingian painting is worldly and attainable while the Hiberno-Saxon painting is
used to convey an idea.

Works Cited

1)

Ross, Nancy, and Jennifer Freeman. "Saint Matthew from the Ebbo Gospels." Smarthistory.
KhanAcademy.com, Web. 08 Dec. 2014

2)

N/A. "Book of Durrow." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Mar. 2014. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.

3)

N/A. "Four Evangelists." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 July 2014. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.